COVID-19: How effective are household cleaners in fighting coronavirus?

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As fears continue to grow over novel coronavirus, many Canadians have begun stockpiling cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products in anticipation that the outbreak could worsen in Canada.

The disease caused by the novel coronavirus — known as COVID-19 — was first detected in China late last year. In the months since, it has infected more than 87,000 people in more than 60 countries and has killed over 3,000.

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As of Monday, 27 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Canada.

Over the weekend, photos surfaced on social media of empty shelves and lengthy lines at grocery stores across the country as families began preparing for the outbreak.

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Are these cleaning supplies effective in limiting the spread of the virus? And should Canadians be stockpiling these products?

Here’s what experts say.

Are household cleaners effective?

Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said the coronavirus is known to live on surfaces.

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“We don’t know for how long, probably for a couple hours to a couple of days, depending on the surface and the environmental conditions,” he told Global News. “But we don’t actually have that information just yet.”

And, while he said stockpiling cleaning supplies may not be necessary, Bogoch said Canadians should be “mindful” and should practise good hygiene.

“If there are high contact surfaces in your workplace or your place of rest, it might be a good idea to keep those cleaned up,” he said.

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In an email to Global News, Dr. Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said household cleaners are “definitely” a good way for Canadians to limit the spread of novel coronavirus.

“We need to remember that certain disinfectants will have recommendations for use on specific surfaces,” he said. “Please ensure that the product being used is recommended for the surface being disinfected.”

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The American Chemistry Council’s Center for Biocide Chemistries has compiled a list of products that have been pre-approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against “emerging enveloped pathogens.” The centre said the products can be used during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Included on the list are a number of Clorox, Lysol and Purell products.

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In separate emails to Global News, spokespeople from both Clorox and GOJO – Purell’s parent company – said some of their products have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to the new coronavirus and, in accordance with the EPA’s Emerging Pathogen Policy and could be used against COVID-19 when used on hard, non-porous surfaces.

Similarly, Lysol Canada told Global News in an email that specific products have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses like rotavirus and rhinoviorus and ones similar to COVID-19, on hard, non-porous surfaces and are predicted to be effective against novel coronavirus.

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“Definitive scientific confirmation of this, as with all other commercially available viricides, can only be provided once testing against COVID-19 has been conducted, following release of the strain by relevant health authorities,” the email reads.

But Kindrachuk said that it’s important to remember that soap has, and will continue to be, one of the “best agents” to use to disinfect surfaces.

“We do tend to dismiss good old fashioned soap (e.g. dishwashing liquid) as an effective disinfectant for cleaning surfaces,” Kindrachuk wrote. “While not convenient outside of the house, it is important to remember that it is a fantastic line of defence.”

Are hand sanitizers effective?

When it comes to Purell’s hand sanitizer, claims that don’t appear on the bottle — like a claim of effectiveness fighting coronavirus — can’t be discussed because of U.S. Food and Drug administration rules.
According to Kindrachuk, while hand sanitizers can be helpful if you’re in a bind, they are not as “broadly effective” as soap and water when it comes to disinfection.

“The effectiveness of sanitizers can be impacted by things like dirt and grease so those variables should be considered,” he wrote.

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If you are going to use hand sanitizer, Kindrachuk said it is recommended to look for one that has 60 per cent alcohol as an ingredient.

“This is essential for the inactivation of viruses (as well as other germs,)” he said.

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And, Kindrachuk said that “without any doubt” practising good hand washing is still the greatest form of protection against COVID-19.

“Keep your hands clean and try to reduce your face touching as much as possible,” he wrote.

While it’s not always an easy thing to do, Kindrachuk said it is “such a great way to reduce your chances of getting infected generally with any viruses or bacteria.”

According to Health Canada’s website, hands should be washed frequently with both soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.

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Increase in demand for products

According to GOJO spokesperson Samantha Williams, GOJO has seen a “substantial increase in demand” for its hygiene products, including hand sanitizer, hand soap, hand sanitizing wipes and surface disinfectant.

“We have experienced several demand surges in the past during other outbreaks,” she wrote. “And this is on the higher end of the spectrum but not unprecedented.”

According to Williams, the increase in demand is across all of GOJO’s markets, including professional, healthcare and food service, but has been especially strong in retail and online.

In order to compensate, Williams said the company has added shifts and has team members working overtime.

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Clorox spokesperson Naomi Greer said Clorox has also increased production of its disinfecting products to “meet the potential needs of people, retailers, healthcare facilities and communities” and that the company is “continuing to monitor the issue closely.”


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